Shirley MacLaine Channels Her Bad Self in "The Last Word"
By Skip Sheffield
What a national treasure is Shirley MacLaine. It was fitting that she was honored at this year’s Oscars by one of Hollywood’s hottest women, Charlize Theron.
Shirley MacLaine turns 83 on April 24. She is no longer the hot chick who replaced Marilyn Monroe in “Irma la Douce” in 1963. MacLaine still has a certain Elfin appeal, and she uses this to best advantage to play the very unlikeable Harriet Lauler, founder of an advertising agency that once bore her name. Now she is forcibly “retired.” In truth she was thrown out of her own company because she was so unpleasant and disrespectful of everyone around her.
The hook to this story is that Harriet is such a control freak she wants final proof on the obituary that will eventually appear in the local newspaper. She storms into the paper’s newsroom and confronts Anne Sherman (Amada Seyfried), the resident obit writer. Anne is proud of her work and would never think of misrepresenting the truth. Harriet wants a whitewashing that depicts her as a wonderful person. In reality everyone hates her, including her ex-husband (Philip Baker Hall) and her only daughter (Anna Heche).
When the paper’s editor leans heavily on Anne to fulfill Harriet’s wishes because Harriet almost single-handedly kept the paper afloat with her advertising, Anne grits her teeth and tries to make the best of a hopeless situation. Harriet suggests enlisting the help of a disadvantaged, preferably minority youth as an “intern,” because it would make her look good. She chooses feisty Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) at the community center. It’s not hard to guess where all this is going in Stuart Ross Fink's script. Harriet will be humbled, lessons will be learned and highjinks will ensue, including Harriet's stint as a radio disc jockey. This is not a high water mark for Shirley MacLaine, but it is fun to see her in there pitching. Any movie that makes reference to The Kinks as “the most underrated band” and closes with Ray Davies “Waterloo Sunset” can’t be all bad.